Alfalfa

By: James Erlbacher

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Alfalfa is a perennial flowering plant. It is a member of the pea family. It grows to about 3 feet tall and has taproots that can reach up to 49 feet long. Alfalfa can be grown as a cover crop or used in a crop rotation to decrease soil compaction and increase nutrient levels. It has been used to feed livestock since ancient times. It is also now used in some medicines.

Where is it Grown?

Alfalfa is grown worldwide as a food source for livestock and medicine. The US is the largest producer. The leading producing state is California.

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Planting

Alfalfa can be sown in the spring or fall. It is recomended to use a seeding rate of 12-25 lb/acre. It prefers warmer temperatures, but its roots have made it able to withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures, as well as droughts.

Harvesting

Alfalfa should be cut at bud stage the first time and at flowering the rest of the time. It can be cut upwards of 10 times in a summer.


Alfalfa is used like hay in most cases. First, It is cut. Then, it is raked into windrows (if the mower didn't put it in rows) and it dries. Finally, it is bailed in square or round bails.


Alfalfa harvesting has been improved by the introduction of the mower-conditioner. It crimps the end to help speed up the drying process.

Uses

Alfalfa can be used for:

Medicines (especially for digestive tract)

Animal feed (especially dairy cows)

Silage

Cover Crop

Pests

Alfalfa has a few specific pests such as the alfalfa weevil. It also shares many of the same pests as other crops. Many times these just reduce yields. Farmers will typically spray chemicals to get rid of pests in alfalfa.

"Fun" Facts

  • Alfalfa was domesticated 6,000 years ago
  • George Washington grew alfalfa
  • Used in medicines
  • People eat alfalfa sprouts

2 Important Facts

California is top producer

Used for Hay